Soft Power

I’ve already posted about how much I love this new blog. Go now and read their ominously hilarious post about how China manages to shoot itself in the foot whenever it comes to its neverending quest for soft power. An example is a business conference in the city of Leeds that gave a speaking slot to the king of jackals, the Dalai Lama. China’s leader were not amused. As is so often the case, they resort to threats, a very poor strategy in the quest for soft power around the world. They did the same with Norway after Liu Xiaobao won the Nobel Peace Prize and they still do). Rectified.Name comments:

But today an op-ed appeared in the nationalist rag The Global Times which made it quite clear that anybody who messes with China’s dignity should expect a flaming bag of cat hurled in the general direction of their front door sometime in the very near future:

“They must pay the due price for their arrogance. This is also how China can build its authority in the international arena. China doesn’t need to make a big fuss because of the Dalai or a dissident, but it has many options to make the UK and Norway regret their decision.”

You get the idea.

This is China at its soft power worst, scoring goals in its own net and making it exponentially harder to convince the rest of the world that the country is being run by grown-ups.

Need further proof? Take the case of the new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, produced by Alison Klayman. It’s gotten some decent buzz at Sundance and other stops on the festival circuit, but that wasn’t sufficient for the Chinese government who apparently want EVERYBODY to go see this movie.

Faced with the possibility of appearing at the same film festival as Klayman’s documentary, a Chinese delegation, including representatives from CCTV, pulled out of a planned appearance rather than validate the promoter’s decision to…I don’t know, show films. Anybody not high from inhaling industrial solvents could have predicted what happened next, because as sure as cows shit hay the festival organizers then called a press conference, chastised the Chinese delegation, and reaped a bonanza of free publicity for their festival, Ai Weiwei, Klayman and her film.

Seriously, if the powers that be really wanted to kill this film they’d have SARFT publicly give the documentary its seal of approval.

“Many options.” That is really scary.

I really would like to write a post praising the CCP for its soft policy efforts. They seem to try so hard, but then they seem to try even harder to offend just about everyone. I see so many glimmers of hope, and then they just switch the lights off. There’s a way to express your dissatisfaction without sounding like a snarling bully. Why do they keep getting soft power all wrong? It’s not just that they fail at establishing soft power, it’s that they create exactly the opposite effect from what they set out to achieve.

For bloggers on China, this is a gift that keeps on giving. Same story over and over again, each time with some added bells and whistles. This is supposed to be a government run by engineers employing scientific methods to solve the country’s myriad problems, and in many ways they’ve done a damn good job. Why can’t they apply this scientific approach to the pursuit of soft power instead of setting the laboratory on fire everytime they try?

Update: Be sure to read this one, too!

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 54 Comments

By the way, none of this is meant to absolve Tibet of the problems it had before the Chinese annexation, but there are enough real problems there that people don’t need to make up fake ones- unless they have a political agenda for doing so, as the CCP does.

June 20, 2012 @ 8:28 am | Comment

“What exactly is China going to do? The UK isn’t going to change policy for extra China imports of Scotch. So is China going to take things to the next level and start economic warfare on the UK? Or persecute British businessmen in China? I have news for China, threatening UK citizens isn’t going to result in change.”

Actually Raj, what the Chinese can do is start squeezing the British financial industry–market access and cooperation opportunities with Chinese banks are critical to recapitalizing Britain’s battered banks, and given the flexibility of the Chinese finance rulebook, they can make life very, very difficult if they so chose to do so.

E.g. lets say a British bank wanted to sell a stake in a Chinese bank for a capital gain–the ministry could impose a windfall tax of up to 75% of the net capital gains at its sole discretion. Alternatively, it could make it illegal or administratively difficult for Chinese citizens to move their wealth into the UK as opposed to the US, Australia, or Canada, or even focus it more tightly on barring wealth management firms from the UK from participating in capital transfers. Given how much The City contributes to the UK election cycle, such actions would undoubtedly have an effect on Whitehall/10 Downing.

June 20, 2012 @ 1:21 pm | Comment

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June 22, 2012 @ 8:53 pm | Pingback

Lindsey & Cooper mix tendentious opinions with blatant historical inaccuracies. “Dalai” is not a family name and as far as I know none of the Dalai Lamas have been related to each other by blood. Perhaps the best thing the Chinese ever did for Tibet was the emperor’s declaration in 1792 that the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama must not be born into noble families. That’s why the current Dalai Lama’s parents were humble villagers from Amdo. His family’s surname is Taklha, not Dalai. Even before 1792, they came from a variety of backgrounds. For instance, the 6th Dalai Lama was famously a Mönpa from what is now Arunachal Pradesh in India.
Also, the idea that the Tibetans “came from the east” and some of them stayed behind is confused. In prehistorical times, the ancestors of the Tibetans “came from”, you know, Olduvai Gorge and various points in between. Some studies show they share common genetic ancestry with the Hans in the relatively recent past, i.e. in the last few thousand years. However, Tibetans appear in the historical record only since the 7th century CE and they definitely expanded outward from a heartland in the vicinity of Lhasa. Not that this has any relevance for modern political disputes.
“Why not have leaders and advocates for the Tibetan people who were, for one thing, actually born in Tibet, and who have actually lived in Tibet over the last sixty years?” This argument seems totally contextless. In terms of abstract principle, yes why should a theocratic ruler from a dark-ages-style old regime that was overthrown 60 years ago be a spokesman for anybody? But a political or cultural leader is often a Schelling point: people want to agree on something more than they care what it is that they agree on. The Dalai Lama is the obvious spokesman for Tibet because he was the most recent leader of the most recent regime before the current one and he is very popular among Tibetans. He seems to have a unique status in Tibet as a symbol of Tibetan identity (certainly not just among his own religious sect: a book I’m reading pointed out that for a long time it was common for Bön temples to display an image of the Dalai Lama dressed in Bön ceremonial garb; and they are not technically even Buddhists).
The Dalai Lama has the additional advantage of being an internationally beloved celebrity. The position of other exile leaders such as Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the non-soi-disant government-in-exile, is much more tenuous. That doesn’t mean that they have no appeal at all to Tibetans in Tibet. Tsering Woeser (basically the only notable Tibetan dissident in the PRC who is not in prison) obviously takes Lobsang Sangay seriously, and I recall she mentioned other comments from the Tibetans-in-the-PRC blogosphere making note of Lobsang Sangay’s election.
The real question is who are these Tibetan leaders and advocates who actually live in Tibet? They have tended to meet with unfortunate accidents like going to prison or getting beaten with cattle prods. Woeser is lucky: all that’s happened to her so far is that she lost her job, had to leave Tibet, and is intermittently censored. This is better than nobody. Still, who does the average Tibetan put more trust in, Woeser or the Dalai Lama?

June 23, 2012 @ 1:07 am | Comment

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